Sure, Lady Mary and the Doweger Countess pretty much run the show, but the true star of the international sensation Downton Abbey is Downton Abbey itself, which is “played” by Highclere Castle.
This large mansion is currently inhabited by the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, who live both there and nearby. It is a private residence, and is mostly closed to the public, but does have an Egyption Exhibition because the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who also lived there discovered the Tomb of the Tutankhamun, a.k.a “King Tut,” in 1922. All of the castle is currently closed until their Easter 2013 opening, but after that, they will have the exhibitions, the grounds, and part of the castle open for the public. Click here for visitation information.
The estate includes 1,000 acres of land, which is larger than the area of Central Park. It features between 200-300 room, but the owners are unsure how many because they’ve never done a count. Lady Fiona Carnarvon told Life & Style “I suppose if you know how many rooms you’ve got, you haven’t got a very big house.”
The total price for the sprawling estate with an unknown bedroom count is a whopping $240 million! The internationally popular television show actually helped save the once-crumbling castle from ruin. The rooms were uninhabitable and needed over $20 million in repairs, including almost $4 million of urgent repairs. The daily visitors who now visit the landmark have helped them raise funds to restore the home to it’s former glory.
In 2010 there was drama when composer Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber tried to buy the house, even though it wasn’t for sale. George Herbert, the 8th Earl of Carnarvon explained “It is absolutely a treasured, long-term family estate and I have never discussed selling it to anyone. It is not for sale. He has not approached me directly and the first I knew about him expressing his interest in this letter was just before a recent council meeting. Maybe it is something opportunist or something to interfere with the proposed development, I really don’t know.”
Much of the drama we see on the show has been inspired by the generations of nobility who have inhabited the estate.
Like in the second season of Downton Abbey, when the mansion was transformed into a hospital, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon, Lady Almina, made Highclere into a hospital during the First World War. She even learned how to be a nurse.
Also one of the first owners of Highclere married an heiress to pay off debts, much like Lord Grantham’s marriage to Lady Cora.
Downton Abbey airs Sundays through Feb. 17, 2013 on PBS.